The Digital Journalist
Common Cents
June 2004

by Mark Loundy

They first came for the Time Magazine staffers,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Time Magazine staffer.

Then they came for the AP freelancers,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an AP freelancer.

Then they came for the Newsweek staffers,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Newsweek staffer.

Then they came for the New York Times freelancers,
and I didn't speak up because I was a staffer.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up
— With apologies to Pastor Martin Niemöller

This is about you. Whether you're freelancing for a weekly in rural Arkansas or you're a Pulitzer Prize-winning senior staffer for a major metro or a superstar shooter for a national magazine, this is about you.

In our increasingly visually oriented society, photography has, ironically, become devalued in the American consciousness. It's easy. There it is. It's so simple, even grandma can do it. Heck, you don't even need film anymore. It almost makes sense for the rates paid to professional photographers to drop. I can almost hear Daily Planet editor Perry White thundering, "Great Caesar's Ghost, Olson! What do you mean $250 for one picture of Superman? Here's ten bucks. Now get out of my office!"

Not only can you mistreat freelancers, like Jimmy Olson, you can do the same to staffers. CNN effectively dissolved its union contract in New York by simply axing the entire unionized staff and rehiring about half of them at lower wages.

Newsweek tossed its staffers a few years ago. All of its content now comes from agencies and freelancers.

Olson hoped to become a fulltime staffer for the Planet. But he didn't know that an evil billionaire who planned to fire all of the staffers and replace them with freelancers had purchased the paper. Freelancers like Jimmy Olson, who would work for a fraction of the price of so-called "ace reporters" like Clark Kent. Olson would never be a staffer.

Less and less is freelancing a path to a staff job. Increasingly using freelancers is an object lesson for bean counters in how to do without staffers entirely.

Are you up to saving our profession? By the time you read this, I will have formally submitted three resolutions that, if passed, will fundamentally change the NPPA into an organization that sees the survival of our profession as its primary mission. If you agree that a new NPPA would benefit our profession, go to and click on the "What can I do to make this happen?" link.

The Good:

MAMM Magazine for their straightforward one-time usage contract.

The Bad:

The New York Times for remaining more than $150 behind inflation even after raising their rates by $50.

The Ugly:

The New York Times for characterizing a 50% payment of NET revenue as being fair. Traditional agency rates are 50% of gross revenue. 50% of the net could conceivably be zero.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.


- "Business Estimating" was the topic for a panel of photographers at last fall's International QuickTime VR Association Conference in Washington, DC. Photographers John Greenleigh of Berkeley, CA, Pat St. Clair of Henrietta, NY and Scott Highton of San Carlos, CA shared how they create estimates. You can see their original estimates on Highton's website.

- QuickTime VR guru Scott Highton created a nifty fee calculator based on FileMaker Pro. Right now, it's Mac-only, Classic mode.


Pastor Martin Niemöller's quote

Business Estimating Panel

Scott Highton's Photo Business Fee Calculator

Proposed bylaw revisions

NPPA Independent Photographers Toolkit

Advertising Photographers of America Resource page

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Editorial Photographers Cost of Doing Business Calculator

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group

Small Business Administration

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

© Mark Loundy

Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.